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Agencies: Arizona farmers should expect less water in 2022

Shown here are rows of cotton plants in Pinal County. Industrial hemp could soon take the place of cotton because it is now legal to grow in Arizona. The crop is required by law to be below 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana. (Photo by Meg Potter/Cronkite News)

Shown here are rows of cotton plants in Pinal County. Industrial hemp could soon take the place of cotton because it is now legal to grow in Arizona. (Photo by Meg Potter/Cronkite News)

State officials are putting farmers in south-central Arizona on notice that the continuing drought means a “substantial cut” in deliveries of Colorado River water is expected next year.

A joint statement issued Friday by the state Department of Water Resources and the Central Arizona Project said an expected shortage declaration “will result in a substantial cut to Arizona’s share of the river, with reductions falling largely to central Arizona agricultural users.”

The Central Arizona Project is an aqueduct system that delivers Colorado River water to users in central Arizona and southern Arizona, including farmers, cities and tribes.

A shortage declaration would prompt the additional reduction to take effect under a 2019 drought contingency plan hashed out by the seven states in the river’s basin — Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — to lessen the effects.

The statement said the current thinking is that Arizona would be expected to reduce its use of river water by a total of 512,000 acre-feet in 2022, up from 192,000 acre-feet currently, but that supplies for cities and tribes are not expected to be affected.

“These reductions are painful, but we are prepared,” the statement said. “As we face the prospect of a hotter and drier future, we are confident that with our long history of successful collaboration among our diverse stakeholders — agriculture, tribes, cities, environment and industry — we will continue to find innovative and effective solutions to sustain Arizona’s Colorado River supply.”

Arizona is entitled to 2.8 million acre-feet of river water. An acre-foot of water is enough water to cover an acre with water one foot deep.

Steve Miller, chairman of the Pinal County Board of Supervisors, told the Casa Grande Dispatch it was unclear how farmers in the region will adapt.

“Will there be less crops grown? Probably,” Miller said. “Whatever happens in the future, there’s constantly new technology or improvements in drought-resistant crops. We have very efficient farmers here in Arizona.”

Casa Grande farmer Nancy Caywood said farms should be very concerned by the prospect of their water allotments being reduced and should pick their crops carefully.

“What is going to happen to farms if they end up going bankrupt?” Caywood said. “It’s a bad situation all over. I’m not seeing selling our land, turning acres of beautiful farmland into solar energy or homes, as a good solution either.”

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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